Dogs in Training on a Table

A Complete Guide to Train Your Dog

If you are a first time dog owner or you’ve owned dogs before but never tried to train them, dog training can seem like an impossible task that requires professional help. But the truth is, you can effectively train your dog on your own!

All you need are a lot of patience and a few of the right techniques! Some of the more advanced tricks might require a professional or at least someone with a lot of experience but you can definitely handle the basics like house training, leash training, and good behavior.

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In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to train your dog to behave well and keep your home mess free! There are so many great reasons to train your dog on your own and once you learn how to do it, you’ll be glad you did.

So read on to learn more about the benefits of dog training, the kind of techniques you can use, what sort of dog training supplies are available to help you, and more!

The Benefits of Learning How to Train Your Dog

There are lots of things you can train your dog to do but even if you just do basic dog behavior training, you are going to see a lot of benefits. Here are a few of them:

Dog Giving High Five to Owner

  • Keep your dog safe: the more you train your dog to obey your verbal commands, the better chance you have of keeping him out of dangerous situations such as oncoming cars he’s not paying attention to or approaching a threatening animal. Your dog is far safer when it knows how to listen to you.
  • Take your dog out more often: an untrained dog is a chore to take anywhere. It can be nearly impossible to take an untrained dog camping, hiking, or even out for a simple walk because you risk him bolting off and getting into trouble. With a well-trained dog on the other hand, you can go more places and enjoy more time together because it will be easy to take him out without worrying that you’ll lose him.
  • Bond with your dog: the time you spend training your dog is quality time spent bonding with him. Both of you will appreciate that time and you will get to know each other better as your dog learns what makes you happy and you learn what makes him happy.
  • Cool tricks: if you go beyond basic obedience training and decide to teach your dog fun tricks, you’ll have a constant source of entertainment that you can show off to friends and family.

Dog Jumping of Trainers Back Catching Frisbee

Whatever your reasons, training your dog is a great idea and will be a very rewarding experience for both you and your dog. If you’re still not sure you can manage it, there are always obedience training classes you can take your dog to that will make it much easier.

Positive or Negative Reinforcement: What Is the Best Way to Train a Dog?

Once you’ve decided to train your dog, it’s time to choose whether you’re going to use positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. There are pros and cons to each and what you choose should be based on your dog’s temperament and what you think it will respond best to.

Let’s take a closer look at what is involved in each.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement involves giving a reward to your dog each time it performs the correct behavior. You don’t punish the bad behavior, you simply withhold rewards until you see the correct behavior.

Here are some of the pros of positive reinforcement:

  • Easily show correct behavior. Dogs like treats and as soon as they see that they’re available they will be actively thinking about how they can get them. If doing the correct behavior you are training is the way to get them, they will quickly figure out the connection.
  • More motivational. Dogs (and humans for that matter) are more motivated by the potential for reward than they are by the fear of punishment. As a result, positive reinforcement usually sees a better response from the dog.
  • Because your dog wants that reward, they are going to be more motivated to think about exactly what it is you want them to do in order to get it. This makes positive reinforcement more effective and quick in general.
  • Develop stronger bond. Using positive reinforcement is fun and friendly. It will help you strengthen your bond in a positive way.

Dog Being Praised and Given a Treat

There are some downsides to this form of reinforcement that should be considered, however:

  • Finding the reward. There are lots of different treats out there and you need to find one that your dog really likes so that he is as motivated as possible to learn. This is usually done by trial and error. That is, trying out a few different treats until you find the one that your dog really responds to.
  • Not as effective for prevention. It’s very easy to train your dog to start performing a certain behavior with this method than it is to get them to stop one. That’s because in the case of stopping a behavior, the “correct behavior” is anything that is not that specific behavior. So, it would be challenging to find the right moment to reward your dog and it will be even more challenging to make it clear that the reward is for not doing something.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement involves using a punishment each time your dog performs a behavior you are trying to get them to stop. The punishment is usually the same each time. You don’t actively reward correct behavior. But punishment is withheld unless you see the dog doing the bad behavior.

Here are some of the pros of negative reinforcement:

  • Effective for stopping behaviors. Whereas positive reinforcement doesn’t work so well for this, negative reinforcement is very effective. As soon as you notice the bad behavior, you use your punishment. Your dog will associate that bad behavior with those negative consequences.
  • Discourages bad behavior. As mentioned, dogs are motivated to do things when they get a reward from them. In the case of bad behavior, that reward is simply the joy of doing it. In order to stop a bad behavior, then, it’s important to make it seem less rewarding. Negative reinforcement is an effective way to make bad behavior less desirable since your dog will start to associate it with punishment instead of reward.

Dog Being Scolded for Bad Behaviour

There are definitely some important cons to consider before choosing this method.

  • Must choose punishment carefully. While it needs to be unpleasant, you don’t want to cause real harm to your dog and, more so, you don’t want your dog to learn to fear you. They should respect your authority, not be afraid of you. It can be challenging to find the right balance of sufficiently unpleasant but not excessively cruel.
  • Not as enjoyable for you. Rewarding good behavior is fun for everyone. Punishment is fun for no one. You love your dog and it can be hard to punish him when he’s giving you those puppy dog eyes.
  • Harder to stay consistent. Since you won’t enjoy it as much and you may even feel like you want to avoid punishment, you are less likely to stick with it long enough for it to be effective.
  • Timing is everything. In order to be effective, the punishment needs to happen right when you catch the dog in the act. While potty training for example, some owners will rub their puppy’s nose in the mess when they find the mess. This is just confusing and unpleasant for your dog. They won’t understand why you’re doing it. So you have to be extra alert so that you can catch them while they are still in the act.

Ultimately, the method you choose depends on what you think your dog will respond to best and what you are trying to train. If you are trying to encourage a specific behavior (like teaching commands), positive reinforcement is better.

On the other hand, if you are simply trying to stop an undesired behavior (like chewing up your things or rummaging through the garbage), negative reinforcement is usually more effective since rewarding your dog all the times he’s not rummaging through garbage is going to require a lot of treats and it’s unlikely your dog will understand why he’s being rewarded.

Basic Dog Behavior Training

Now that we’ve discussed some of the more general ideas behind dog training, it’s time to start getting into the specifics. Here are some methods we recommend for doing your own in home dog training.

Golden Retriever Jumping over Obstacle

This is basic dog obedience training that will help position you as the alpha of the house that your dog both loves and respects. You can use the same fundamental method to teach multiple basic obedience commands.

Read up on some of our favorite obedience training methods here. These basic commands and behaviors will go a long way in making home life with your dog more enjoyable and peaceful. But it will also form the basis for training other, more advanced tricks and skills to your dog.

You can also use these methods for how to train a dog not to bark, and how to train a dog to stay. In order to make the process more effective, we recommend dog clicker training which uses a clicker device (read our review on the one we recommend below) to immediately signal when your dog performed a good behavior.

Here are some great tips for dog clicker training.

Dog Aggression Training

Most dogs just require basic obedience training to know the difference between good and bad behavior. But some dogs might be a little aggressive and have a temper to deal with. You need to teach these dogs to control their aggression.

The first step is understanding dog aggression and where it comes from. When training him to be more social, you should avoid negative reinforcement as this could instigate an aggressive reaction. Stick with positive reinforcement and gentle encouragement.

How to Potty Train a Dog

Potty training a puppy can be a frustrating (and messy) experience but unless you get a dog that has already been house trained, it’s something you will have to do. So learning how to house train a dog properly is very important.

Dog Reading Toilet Sign

If you start off on the right foot and stick to your program, you will be able to make this experience as easy as possible (but you should still be prepared for stress and frustration). So here are our tips for potty training a dog:

  1. Start potty training when the puppy is 12 to 16 weeks old. This is when he has enough bladder control to hold it in. If your puppy is older than this when you begin, that is ok but do expect it to take a little longer to fully train him.
  2. Put your puppy on a regular feeding schedule. Do not leave food and water out at all times. Give him measured portions of both at fixed times of day (such as morning and evening). This will help to make his need to eliminate more predictable and regular.
  3. Stick to a regular schedule for going out to eliminate. Take him out often and consistently at the same times each day. He may not go each time but this decreases the chance that he will go in the house which will make it easier for him to learn that he should only go outside. Start first thing in the morning by taking him out. Then, take him out at least once per hour until it’s time to sleep.
  4. Take him to the same spot. By instinct, dogs will designate one area as a potty area. They recognize it by scent (which is why it’s so important to thoroughly clean any indoor accidents so they don’t start assuming that place is their potty area). By taking him to the same spot outside, the scent will grow so he will more easily recognize this as his potty area.
  5. Stay with him while outside. You should lead him to the spot and stay with him each time until he is fully trained. This allows you to monitor progress and make sure the puppy is focused and doesn’t just spend that time exploring.
  6. Use treats to speed up progress. Praise him when he goes potty where he is supposed to and reward him with a tasty treat or a walk around the block.
  7. Use an enzyme cleaner. Regular carpet cleaners might get the stain and smell out for you but your puppy can still detect the enzymes left behind and will assume that spot in the house is their potty area. We recommend a powerful enzyme cleaner below that kills the scent so that even your puppy can’t smell it anymore. This will help cut down on the number of indoor accidents.Retriever Puppy Pooping in Grass

How Long Does it Take to Potty Train a Dog?

The answer really depends on your dog. Some breeds learn more quickly than others and, more importantly, each dog has his or her own personality. A more stubborn puppy will take longer than a more docile one.

It also depends on you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve found the best way to potty train a dog. It’s not going to work if you don’t stick with it consistently.

On average, however, plan for it to take anywhere from 4 to 6 months of consistent training before your puppy is 100% completely trained. You will see gradual progress within this time.

Smaller dogs typically take longer to house train than the larger breeds since they have smaller bladders and faster metabolisms.

Crate Training for Potty Training

Crate training involves training your pup to become comfortable being inside a cage or crate. This can be their sleeping area or even just a way to get them comfortable with being transported.

It can also be used to help potty train your dog. But if you don’t know how to crate train a dog properly, you can end up accidentally causing long term trauma and anxiety. So make sure you come up with a good plan and stick to it.

Happy Puppy in a Crate

This method from the dog training expert, Cesar, is an effective way to gently and safely crate train your dog.

How to Leash Train a Dog

Leash training a dog can be one of the easiest or one of the hardest things to do depending on your dog’s temperament. Some dogs take to it quickly and don’t mind being on a leash. Others cannot stand it. In either case, it will take some training to get them comfortably wearing and respecting the leash. Here is a method we recommend:

  1. At the beginning, simply attach the leash to your dog and let it go (in the house). Do this consistently at least twice a day until your dog seems to be comfortable having the leash on him.
  2. Once comfortable, go on walks at least twice per day (but the more the better). Treat all walks as training sessions until he is fully trained.
  3. Take him for exercise before walks. Training sessions do not allow for enough exercise and an overly energetic pup is hard to train. Take your dog out in the backyard or play with him in the house for at least 30 minutes before a walk so that he has used up some pent up energy and will be a little more relaxed during training.
  4. Bring a lot of treats. The method we are recommending involves lots of rewards for good behavior. You can break treats apart into smaller pieces to spread them out.
  5. During training, begin by standing still with your dog beside you. Start walking. As long as the leash has some slack in it (meaning he’s not pulling), keep walking. Walk at a relatively fast pace. Your dog is naturally pretty fast so your normal two-legged pace might simply be too slow for him (which will make it challenging to learn to walk properly on a leash).
  6. Encourage him to stick close to your side by feeding him treats as you walk and praise him often.
  7. As soon as he begins to pull on the leash, stop walking and call him back to you. Once he is at your side again, begin walking again.
  8. If he continues to pull, you can also choose to take steps backward (rather than simply stopping) so that the dog learns that pulling will take him even further from his goal.

Bulldog on a Leash

Bonus Dog Training Tips

In order to make any of the above strategies and techniques more effective, you should follow these tips so that you can ensure whatever method you go with is being used as effectively as possible:

  • Create a training plan: write down a training plan that includes the techniques you will use, the reward system you are going to rely on, and the times of day you will train. It’s important that training sessions are extremely consistent and become like a routine so that your dog will become familiar with them faster.
  • Be patient: there are going to be many moments in the first few weeks or months (depending on the breed, age and personality) where it feels like you are getting nowhere with your training. But stick with it. Consistency is key. Eventually, you will start to see results.
  • Start early: the younger the pup is when you start training, the better. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” exists for a reason. Sure, technically you can but it is way more difficult to teach a dog who is already set in its ways than it is to teach a puppy who is still learning and getting to know the world. That said, your pup should be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned before training.
  • Don’t punish after the fact: if your puppy makes a mess in the house but you don’t catch him in the act, don’t take him to the mess and rub his nose in it. He will not understand the connection and will just become upset and stressed from being punished for no reason. Instead, just clean up the mess thoroughly, using a spray that completely removes the enzymes and odors so that your puppy doesn’t start thinking that spot is a potty spot.

The Best Dog Training Supplies

Here are a few of our favorite products to help make your dog training sessions run smoothly and effectively.

ARIKON No-Pull Dog Leash Harness

ARIKON No-Pull is a heavy duty dog harness that comes in two sizes. It’s great for leash training because it wraps around the chest and distributes pressure evenly rather than wrapping around the neck and potentially choking an overeager dog.

ARIKON No-Pull Dog Leash HarnessThe straps are adjustable for an even more customized and comfortable fit. However, they don’t make one for small dogs so if you have a small breed or a young puppy (under 10 lbs.), this will be too large.

Rocco & Roxie Gourmet Jerky Dog Treats

A good treat that your pooch absolutely loves is essential to any positive reinforcement training method. Rocco & Roxie Gourmet Jerky Dog Treats are a great option for that. You can try them in beef, chicken, or turkey to see which one your dog prefers most.

Rocco & Roxie Gourmet Jerky Dog TreatsNot only is it a super enticing treat, it’s made from healthy and natural ingredients. It’s totally free of fillers so you can treat your dog without harming his health! They are a bit pricey as far as dog treats go but we recommend breaking the sticks into pieces to make them last longer.

All-Absorb Training Pads

All-Absorb Training Pads for potty training your puppy are effective when you can’t be there often enough to take the puppy outside often enough (or you are planning to have an indoor dog). These are super absorbent and dry quickly so they contain the mess well.

All-Absorb Training PadsWe do have to admit it’s not always that appealing to come home to a stained training pad, though so unless you have no other option, we’d recommend just finding a way to make time for effective outdoor potty training (or keeping the pad in a discreet place).

Atertek AT-216C Waterproof Remote Dog Training Shock and Vibration Collar

Atertek AT-216C is a training collar that offers 10 different levels of electric shock intensity as well as a vibration feature. It’s a negative reinforcement technique that can be used to correct any unwanted behaviors and also help with potty training, leash training and so on.

Atertek AT-216C Waterproof Remote Dog Training Shock and Vibration CollarWhile it is safe and can be effective when used with a training strategy, some owners find the idea of causing discomfort to their dog undesirable. It won’t cause permanent damage but it can be upsetting. If you have a particularly sensitive dog, we wouldn’t recommend this option.

PetSafe Ultrasonic Indoor Bark Control

For those who are reluctant to use a shock collar training system, PetSafe Ultrasonic Indoor Bark Control can help train your dog to stop barking without electric jolts. Instead, it emits an ultrasonic sound in response to barking. The sound is at such a high pitch that the human ear cannot detect it but it is extremely annoying to a dog’s ear. But annoying is far better than painful!

PetSafe Ultrasonic Indoor Bark ControlUnfortunately, some dogs just don’t respond to this kind of training so there is a slight risk it won’t work for you. Fortunately, this brand has a No Bark Guarantee in case you happen to have a dog that isn’t responding to it.

A&S Creavention Dog Training Clicker Set

Clicker training is great for more stubborn or easily distracted dogs. A&S Creavention Dog Training Clicker Set will grab the attention immediately. You learned about clicker training above. If it’s something you are interested in, this is our favorite clicker set.

A&S Creavention Dog Training Clicker SetIt’s totally free of electrics which means it can essentially last forever (unless it is physically broken apart). It’s simple, easy to hold, and easy to use. The only risk is that it’s small enough that it is easy to use so we recommend having a designated place that you keep it.

Potty Bells Housetraining Dog Doorbells

Potty Bells Doorbells is a great device that we strongly recommend. It is a durably built string of bells that you can hang from a doorknob or hang anywhere near the door. Then, you train your dog to swat the bells when they need to go outside.

Potty Bells Housetraining Dog DoorbellsSo no matter where you are in the house, you will hear the bells and immediately know what your dog is trying to say. This avoids any messes from your dog holding it in too long while waiting to go outside.

Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator

No matter how much your puppy wants to please you, there are going to be accidents when you are still in the potty training phase. And you need an enzyme spray like Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator to clean up the mess because if a puppy smells a lingering odor from an old mess, they will mistakenly think that is the place where they are supposed to go potty.

Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor EliminatorThis spray not only removes the stain, it also completely removes the odor so your puppy won’t smell anything. Regular cleaners might seem to eliminate the odor for you but your puppy’s extra powerful sense of smell can detect odors even when your nose can’t. So you will definitely need this spray.

Final Word

After reading this guide, you are now prepared to embark on your own dog training program. Once you’ve created one, stick to it through thick and thin. Both you and your dog will be rewarded for your patience and commitment!

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